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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is That a Hangnail? Or, Why Flip Flops Are for the Beach, Not the Boardroom!

Well, with summer more than half over, I think that it's safe to say that this summer officially belongs to the flip flop. Congratulations!!! That something so simple as a thin piece of rubber with a couple of straps on top would represent a revolution in footwear is quite spectacular. The flip flop's territory has been rapidly expanding beyond the beach, the shower and the pool for the past few years. It's been seen at the White House and in other Washington, DC corridors of power, including the Capitol, the Fed, and the State Department.

It started innocently enough with the summer interns who, unused to suits and ties and pantyhose and pumps, wore the lowly flip flop as a status symbol of their youth during their commutes to and from the office. Standing on the Metro platform on a muggy summer morning, I've heard the slap-slap as their rubber soles smacked the backs of their feet and I've watched, with just the littlest bit of glee, as these "slappers", as I've termed them, ding their exposed toes on the metal poles inside of the rail cars. And while the abundant smell of feet on a closed-in, over-crowded train car may sound appealing to some, nobody likes the string of broken Metro escalators flip flops often leave in their wake after they've slipped under the ever-present yellow cone plate found at the top and bottom of the escalator. In a recent news story, Metro reported that approximately three dozen pairs of flip flops annually are chomped on by Metro's escalators. Think about that the next time you're forced to hike up the Dupont Circle escalator stairs in 114-degree heat!!

Right now you're thinking about all of the slappers you know, aren't you? Maybe you're thinking of the account manager who sits in the cube across from yours and who slap-slaps their day away on Casual Fridays or everyday of the week during summer. Or maybe it's that woman on Sunday morning who insists on sporting her Havaianas at Mass and slap-slaps down the aisle to Communion. OK, so Jesus wore sandals, but that was so first century Middle East!

In a lot of ways, the rise of the flip flop can be seen as indicative of the casual vibe that has a death grip on this country. In homes where we've torn down the wall that literally separated the place where we eat from the place where we sit and watch TV, and where living rooms are now optional, casual is comfortable and comfortable's what sells. In restaurants, we've gone from white linen table cloths and "madame" to "fast casual" and "you guys."

But the power of the flip flop also has to do with the ever-changing boundaries of what is and is not considered appropriate. Once iron-clad and seemingly fixed, standards of appropriate dress have become relative. Back when my parents met, a first date meant a jacket and tie for my dad and a skirt, blouse, sweater for my mom. By the time I arrived at college in the early '90s, though, all that had changed. The first date was ditched for the hook up and "hanging out," and t-shirts and jeans and flip flops became our uniform. It was my generation that brought grunge into the workplace, and then deconstructed the workplace during the dot-com era, decimating the organizational chart and chain of command, and, that staple of the Old Guard, the corporate dress code. The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit was kicked out and the flip flop moved up. At the core of this sartorial dust up was a simple truth - that we should be judged in the workplace by the jobs we do and not the clothes we wear. It's a noble truth, but it's time to tame the toe tyranny and put those ten little piggies back inside of a closed-toe shoe!

I'm just saying:)

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